1. Opinion

Editorial: Pesticide rules credited for cleaner rivers

Published Sep. 12, 2014

As Florida Republicans look to cut environmental regulations at the expense of clean water and public health, a new study shows that sensible rules on pesticides can enormously help America's rivers and streams.

The study, conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, examined the most frequently detected pesticides in 200 major rivers and streams across the nation. From 1992 to 2001, 17 percent of agricultural streams and 5 percent of mixed land-use streams had pesticide levels above that deemed healthy for humans. But the following decade, from 2002 to 2011, only one agricultural stream and no urban or other streams exceeded that pesticide level.

The study credits the decline to regulatory measures and to the reductions in the use of heavy chemicals. In short, government nudged the pesticide industry to move away from producing the harshest agents, leading to less toxic products. Property owners, meanwhile, began to use more efficient and environmentally friendly methods to treat their farms, homes and lawns.

Florida Republicans have attacked wetlands and clean water regulations in recent years as bureaucratic job-killers. But the study shows that regulations, private sector innovation and personal responsibility can all contribute to the greater good. Just as homeowners and the lawn and garden industry have adapted to watering restrictions, fertilizer bans and other efforts to protect the nation's natural resources, this study shows how adaptable manufacturers and consumers are when committed to addressing a chronic public health challenge.

The nation still has a way to go in cleaning up its urban streams, especially. But the message here is that all players have a role — and a history of being up to the task.